I think this might be the year I don’t say “Merry Christmas.”
No, I’m not replacing it with “bah, humbug.” Nor do I think the “War on Christmas” is a real thing. It’s not. And I’m not looking to be politically correct, either, whatever that really means. Sure, I think we could be more inclusive and throw in a “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” every now and then. It also wouldn’t hurt to actually get to know people well enough to know whether to wish them well on whatever religious festival or celebration that has meaning for them, as well as our own.
Thing is, it’s not the Christmas part. It’s the Merry.
It depends on how you interpret it, of course, and we all will. The word’s been around a long time, but I think that, with Christmas, we’ve generally understood it to mean happy or glad. At least, I think that’s how we’ve seen it since 1843 when Charles Dickens pretty much rejuvenated, if not re-invented, Christmas with the publication of ‘A Christmas Carol.’
Not everyone is merry at Christmas, especially this year. There’s so much that can overwhelm our merry-making: grief, loneliness, pain, poverty, illness, unemployment, stress. There’s so much.
No, I think I’ll try and wish people a joyful Christmas.
Because joy’s something different. Sure, it can have merriment and happiness and smiles and laughter. But it’s more than that. True joy is something that goes to the very core of who we are. It reaches into the deepest corners of our hearts, into the shadowy places, and brings light.
I believe that true joy is found in the moment in which we find God, however we know God (love, energy, connection and more) is present in our lives in a way that brings wholeness to our spirit. Yes, there may be happiness, there may also be a sense of rightness, connectedness, wellness. But there is also healing in brokenness, comfort in grief, hope in uncertainty and, deep within us, the knowing that we are loved just as we are and we are not alone.
The story of Christmas should focus us on that very thing. It’s not the trappings of celebration that we pile on it. It’s the idea that, in this child in a manger, love is in the world. The Gospel of Matthew says this child is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” The writer of the Gospel of John describes it as “the Word made flesh” in whom “was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That child will grow up to show us how “the light of the world” is in us, too.
The story of Christmas plays out in a world full of struggle, danger and fear. There are the poor and the weak, there are the powerful and the seemingly rich, kings and shepherds and angels. But there is joy. Love is here.